August 27, 2021
By Allen Bolen
Early in my bowhunting journey, I read a lot about hunting Sitka blacktails. Legendary bowhunters like Chuck Adams and Jack Frost, to name a couple, seemed obsessed with these little island deer and wrote amazing stories about their DIY adventures in Alaska. Consequently, these deer have been on my mind for decades. To this day, I’m filled with nostalgia as I remember reading those articles nearly 30 years ago.
When I decided it was finally time to work on creating my own Sitka blacktail story, I knew I wanted to have an adventure like Chuck and Jack had both done so many times, which meant going self-guided into remote Alaska. I also knew that I wanted to arrow a truly big buck.
My ultimate goal, I concluded, would be a “Pope and Young Booner.” What I mean by this is the animal must qualify for P&Y as a fair-chase bowkill, and also for B&C by meeting their all-time minimum score. Although Sitka blacktails are a very popular animal to bowhunt, there are only nine bucks that meet the aforementioned criteria, and of those nine, Mr. Adams and Mr. Frost each have one.
While Jack and Chuck chose to mainly hunt Kodiak Island, I decided to take a different route — one based on my roots in the Coast Mountains. For 16 years, I’ve been a partner in Bolen Lewis Guiding Co., a mountain goat operation on the north coast of British Columbia, close to Southeast Alaska. It is there that I developed a deep love for bowhunting big billies in the late-summer above treeline. My affinity for that coastal country swayed me to look to SE Alaska for blacktails, where I’d heard they could be hunted using similar methods.
My schedule cleared up in 2018, and my 16-year-old son, Jake, and I planned a two-week backpacking adventure to bowhunt blacktails in the early season alpine. We were dropped off on a remote lake by floatplane on July 30. As is typical of this part of Alaska, Mother Nature played her hand and delayed our reaching the alpine by a couple of days.
As luck would have it, Jake arrowed a gorgeous 5x5 nontypical Sitka buck on opening day. It was his first animal to qualify for the P&Y record book. I could see my son’s joy as he stood over his buck for the first time and put his hands on those beautiful velvet antlers. He was so proud and so thankful, as was I.
“Dad, I’m so grateful for this experience and opportunity you’ve given me,” Jake said, “I want to pay you back with a promise that I will stay with you and help you find your big buck. No matter how long it takes! I won’t get impatient or want to go home. I’m here with you until we get it done.”
As a father, these were some of the sweetest words I’ve ever heard. Jake understood my desire, and he was willing to give it his all to help his Old Man accomplish his goal.
After arranging a pickup of Jake’s deer meat, we climbed back into the alpine. Both of us were ready and determined to do whatever it would take to find a giant buck.
Over the next 12 days, Jake and I endured some very tough conditions and explored some beautiful but intimidating country. Every time we would exhaust a spot, I would point out the peak we were going to target next. A couple of times, Jake’s eyes widened as he said, “Dad, are you sure we can get there? That looks pretty far away from us.” In truth, I had no idea how far away any of those peaks were, and oftentimes we struggled to find routes through cliffs and deep mountain saddles.
Ultimately, we camped on five different peaks, endured gale-force storms, and spent countless hours behind glass. During that time, we were fortunate to look over 120 different blacktail bucks.
On Day 12, I took a moment to reflect on the awesomeness of the trip as I sat on the edge of a cliff, 80 yards above the biggest buck either of us had ever seen. Said buck was taking a midday rest with a few of his buddies. When that buck finally stood, I placed a perfect arrow in his vitals and Jake watched him fall through his optics from a lookout high above me.
That 2018 buck scored 1033⁄8 P&Y points and received the Club’s First Award at the 2019 convention in Omaha, Nebraska. Although he was short of my dream 108-inch B&C all-time minimum, he was a beautiful deer that meant a lot to both me and my son, and both of our bucks from that trip will forever be displayed together in our home.
The upside of missing the B&C minimum that year was that it would possibly afford my son and I with another adventure. Unfortunately, Jake wasn’t able to hunt with me in 2019 due to some school commitments. But as luck would have it for both of us, the buck that I killed in 2019 also fell just shy of that magic 108-inch mark.
In 2020, Jake and I decided to go back to the same spot we’d hunted in 2018. On this trip, we were accompanied by Jake’s friend, Tyler Rose, and my buddy, Luke Johnson, who was there to document our adventure with his camera.
As we were setting up logistics, our pilot warned me over the phone, “Don’t expect to get any weather this year. We haven’t had any all summer.” To a bush pilot, “getting weather” means getting “nice weather.” Our pilot went on to explain that bad summers usually translate into lousy falls. When someone who has flown into an area for 30 years makes a prediction, you listen. And as a result of his words, we prepared for a tough-weather hunt.
It turned out to be exactly as our pilot had predicted.
We were pounded by copious amounts of rain and fog. It was relentless. Ultimately, when we finally got up the mountain, we ended up stuck in our tents. And when we finally got out to hunt, the fog and rain continued to roll in and out — posing a big challenge for glassing.
The conditions were some of the most frustrating I’ve ever dealt with. We spent many days stuck in our tents, peeking outside every hour and praying for a little break in the weather. The breaks rarely came, and there were multiple three-day stretches where we didn’t hunt at all.
I was also frustrated because I wanted the boys to have fun. The only consolation was that their toughness and patience was being tested to the extreme, which was also a goal of this trip. I just hoped it wasn’t too much. But through it all, everyone remained positive, entertaining ourselves by playing cards and Yahtzee while the storms raged outside the thin walls of our tents. Thanks to everyone’s good attitude, we jumped on every opportunity to get out and hunt, even when the weather wasn’t ideal.
On one such occasion, we decided to move camp deeper into the mountains. As we walked through mixed fog in a historically good deer area, we found a very well-defined deer trail and some large, smoking-fresh buck tracks.
As we followed the trail across a main ridge, I spotted antler tips about 75 yards out. We dropped into the tall alpine grass and glassed ahead.
There were a few bucks we could see that looked pretty nice. I was about to ask if either of the boys wanted to stalk one of them, when a giant buck suddenly appeared with the group from behind a rise.
As we looked over the bucks, I was undecided about what to do. I really wanted to watch the boys make a stalk. That’s when Luke got my attention and snapped me out of my indecisive trance.
Luke looked me right in the eyes and said, “You need to shoot that buck!” I listened, and promptly got my gear ready to go. In the meantime, one of the bucks had noticed our movements and started to walk off. The herd divided as a few bucks went up the ridge, while two dropped down the ridge toward a saddle. They were suspicious of something, but their slow movements told me they weren’t exactly sure as to what was going on. This gave Luke and I just enough time to analyze the contours of some nearby draws and formulate a plan for getting closer.
The big buck was not in either of the groups that were moving off, so we slipped into the area where we’d last seen him, but he remained out of sight. There was only one very small draw left. Did he somehow sneak out on us? I wondered. There were a lot of breaks in the landscape, so it was entirely possible that we missed him exiting “Stage Left.”
I felt pretty confident that we would have seen him leave, yet it was still hard for me to believe that he was completely hidden in that one small cut. And so, we crawled to within 10 yards of the lip of the draw.
I decided to be patient and wait. If he was in that draw, then there was no way for him to leave it without showing himself inside of my effective shooting range.
We waited several minutes, and I began to lose hope. Both visible groups of bucks were now quickly moving away. I looked back at Jake, who was still diligently glassing my position from our original spot. He gave me an encouraging gesture.
Suddenly, a small buck fed out of the draw 14 yards in front of us. He saw us and started a stiff-legged walk along the rim of the draw. I knew it was likely that the big buck would follow him out, and he might be on alert because of the smaller buck’s posture.
With my release hooked onto my string, my muscles suddenly grew tense. If this was going to happen, I knew it was going to do so fast…and I was way closer than I wanted to be.
Within moments, the big buck slumbered out of the draw — his nose buried in the grass, feeding. As I came to full draw, he caught my movement and looked in my direction. But it was too late, and my arrow blew through his ribs at 14 yards.
The buck sprinted down the ridge and into some timber, where we recovered him an hour later.
As the boys and I celebrated and took photos of the giant buck in the pouring rain, I told Jake that I thought we might be looking at a new P&Y velvet world record. He couldn’t believe it, and honestly, neither could I.
I thought back on the three-year journey, and on the nearly 30 years of dreaming about this adventure. I thought about the hundreds of bucks I had looked over, the time spent bonding with my son, and of his promise to stick with me to the end. This is too perfect, I thought. And it was.
Our journey had made a complete circle: We ended where we had started; on the same ridge as Jake’s first P&Y animal, and within a couple hundred yards of the exact spot where he thanked me with a promise — one that he had just fulfilled.
*The author is a highly-experienced bowhunter, CEO of Ampsmart, and a motivational speaker who lives in Highland, UT.
Author’s Notes: Human influences are an integral part to the magic of hunting. The way others inspire us, and the way we inspire them, are the fiber of what fuels our passion in the field. Thank you, Jake, for being with me and helping me live that dream. I hope that someday my son is able to help inspire other bowhunting dreamers, much like Chuck and Jack did for me, through their stories.
This past October, my buck was scored by a panel of P&Y measurers. It was determined to be the new World Record Velvet Typical Sitka blacktail with a net score of 108 1⁄8 (gross score 116 3⁄8). If you enjoyed this story, you can follow more of my adventures in the coming years on Instagram @allenbolen.
On this hunt I was using a Hoyt RX-4 bow, Gold Tip Airstrike arrows, HHA sight, and KUIU clothing, packs, and camping gear.